Are permit requirements slowing the solar revolution?

Solar firms across the country are finding themselves increasingly tangled up in bureaucratic red tape, according to a new report.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The green revolution is seeing red.

In pursuit of permits for installations, solar panel installers across the country are finding themselves increasingly tangled up in bureaucratic red tape, according to a New York Times report.

The problem: permit applications are so inconsistent across agencies, and so inconvenient (such as requirements to submit them in person, or infrequent office hours), that businesses say they are going out of their way -- and spending a lot of unnecessary money -- to meet demands.

Tom Zeller, Jr. reports:

“We have 50 different permitting authorities within 50 miles of our office,” Mr. Button said. “They all have different documentation requirements, different filing processes, different fee structures. It’s like doing business in 50 different countries — just in Southern California.”

According to a new study prepared by solar leasing firm SunRun, jumping through all these permit hoops adds about $2,500 in costs to each installation.

Straightening and paving the road to solar permits? That would be like injecting $1 billion worth of stimulus to the residential and commercial solar power market over the next five years, according to the study.

Furthermore, according to the study:

  • Local permitting and inspection add $0.50 per watt, or $2,516 per residential install.
  • Standardization would bring the cost of solar to grid parity for 50% of Americans by 2013.
  • Standardization would reduce Germany’s 40% cost advantage.

Until now, the U.S. Department of Energy has addressed standardization and best practices through its Solar America Board of Codes and Standards.

But municipalities are not required to adhere to these standards, leaving businesses with the task of finding a way through the maze.

The SunRun analysis urged the Obama administration to streamline permitting by using incentive programs for municipalities. Germany and Japan, among others, have already done so, according to the report.

It's still early for mass-market solar power. It's still expensive. Can the U.S. at least clear a path for what's to come?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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